Over 2 million deaths worldwide in a span of 11 months. This is the toll of Covid-19. As such, it has given rise to fervent discussions surrounding the effectiveness of home working. A study conducted in 2020 into the effects of Covid-19 on Software Developers’ wellbeing, found that “disaster preparedness, fear related to the pandemic and home office ergonomics all affect(ed) wellbeing or productivity.” As such, this article endeavours to provide practical tips on how to reduce fear related to the pandemic, improve home office ergonomics and increase productivity.
Fear Related To The Pandemic
According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund), unemployment is estimated to rise to 7.4% in 2021. Therefore, the biggest fear facing software engineers and software developers is job loss, with many reporting that they have had poor job security amidst the pandemic.
Presently, job loss prevention may seem impossible as the economic environment is uncontrollable to the common man. Though this is the case, we ask you to consider that there may not be 1, but 2 dimensions to job security; Internal and External.
Internal job security relates to organisational job security. It is job security offered by an organisation and is uncontrollable by job seekers. As evidenced by the pandemic, it is dependent on external factors and how businesses choose to respond.
External job security relates to self-manufactured job security. It is the job security you create for yourself in the wider context through the development of skills, networks, and strategic personal branding. “Your reputation precedes you” is a statement that is (and will be) utterly important during and in the aftermath of Covid. If your reputation is good, your skills are in demand and your network is strong, you are more likely to be perceived as a desirable candidate regardless of market conditions. As such, the question remains; how do you lay the foundations for external job security?
How to lay the foundations for external job security
To do this, there are two areas of development to which you must attend: Skills and Personality.
Skills: In software development, the more languages, systems and areas of technology you know, the more your value increases. Develop your skills through training and personal projects. CVs are limited to 2 pages, so it is unwise to waste space telling recruiters what you can, instead, show them. Place links directly to your personal projects or videos showcasing them at the top of your CV. This will make your CV interactive and interesting. It will also demonstrate initiative, a passion for the industry and creativity – all desirable skills.
According to our research, the following skills are most in-demand; 1. AI, 2. Machine Learning, 3. Data Science and Analytics, 4. Data Engineering and 5. Data Visualisations.
Personality: In recent years, there has been an emphasis on “company culture/person” fit. “Personality” has become key to receiving job offers. A common mistake made by applicants is to believe that they only need to worry about their personality once they reach the interview stage.
Recruiters start building a picture of your personality from your CV. Your CV depicts your personality based on your word choice, SPAG, format and even, colour scheme. The interview stage is indeed an opportunity for the recruiter to gauge your personality, but it is unwise to forget that it is also an opportunity for them to judge your authenticity. Are you who you project yourself to be through your CV? Though work cultures change from organisation to organisation, all employers desire authenticity in their employees. As such, we advise you to spend a decent amount of time ensuring your CV projects the true and best version of yourself.
Once you align your CV with your true personality (personal), it is time to strategically amplify that personality (external).
To strategically amplify your personality, you must first audit your online presence then activate your network by asking for references and endorsements. Most references and endorsements are valuable, as recruiters desire to understand you as a rounded individual. It is worth noting that this stage may be labour intensive. You will find that those willing to give a reference, will expect the favour to be returned however it is worthwhile, as the more you receive, the better. Those of you who have already attempted this will know that only a small handful of those whom you ask will provide references and endorsements by the time you need them. As such, the best way of ensuring you are in a good place to lay the foundations of external job security is to take care of current relationships. To this end, the following tips provide suggestions on how this can be successfully done:
- Talk to the client often. This helps you to ensure you are always building the right product for them and meeting their expectations. It is obvious that if you are meeting their expectations, you are more likely to receive positive feedback.
- Treat the client as an actual person. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou) Mental health is very important and with the ongoing pandemic, most people’s mental health has significantly deteriorated. Take the time to throw in the extra couple of minutes here and there before diving straight into work. You can never make too many friends out of professionals.
- Get software in front of them as often as possible. Giving them something to report to their seniors helps them to relieve stress and makes them look good. New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Best Selling author; Dr Robert Cialdini states that one of the 6 principles of persuasion is that of reciprocity; If you help someone or do good for them, then they are more willing to return the favour.
- Find out what parts of the project are the highest priority in the client’s eyes. If you align your delivery process with the client’s mental process, you are more likely to deliver what they need when they need it, which leads to a better relationship and potentially, repeat business. This makes you more valuable to your company.
- Prioritise tricky parts of the project first. It is imperative to do tricky pieces of coding first as they could result in delays that overstretch the given slack in the project management plan. As commissioned projects exist in a nexus of interconnected business functions, delays in the project negatively affect strategic business plans which will fall on the head of the client’s account manager. You do not want a bad review going to your line manager nor do you want it disseminated via word-of-mouth within personal relationships.
Once you have taken steps to ensure you are prepared in the event of job loss, it is the logical choice to ensure you are putting your best foot forward in your current job, after all the phrase; “Prevention is better than cure” (Erasmus) applies to more than health and social care.
Home Office Ergonomics
To put your best foot forward, it is necessary to ensure you get home office ergonomics correct. To this end, we have listed some of the guidance given by the NHS and the Washington State Department of Labour and Industries Work From Home Self Assessment Form below:
- Place screens at eye level: Your screen should be directly in front of you. A good guide is to place the monitor about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen roughly at eye level.
- When you lean against the backrest, your feet should be fully supported by the floor. If not, add a footrest. Boxes work nicely.
- Your chair provides support for your lower back. If not, add a lumbar cushion or use a rolled towel behind your low back. Pin on a strap to make it stay in place better. Some chairs are more comfortable with a vertical pillow added.
- Have the keyboard straight in front of you: Leave a gap of about 4 to 6 inches (100mm-150mm) at the front of the desk to rest your wrists between bouts of typing. Keep your arms bent in an L-shape and your elbows by your sides. Some people like to use a wrist rest to keep their wrists straight and at the same level as the keys.
Further tips can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/ and https://lni.wa.gov/safety-health/_docs/HomeOfficeErgoSelfAssesment.pdf
In addition to the above, at OCC, our Directors have allowed staff to take home office equipment that is not being used such as chairs, monitors etc. We would advise you to ask senior members of the company if this could be arranged for you and/or your team.
Now that you have taken steps to reduce the fear related to the pandemic and ensured that home office ergonomics are up to par, you should be mentally prepared to be productive. In our “Fear Related To The Pandemic” tips, we emphasised the need for relationship care when trying to build external job security. Productivity also requires relationship care and so we have liaised with Hanna Machray, OCC’s HR Director, to create the following tips:
- Communicate with your manager. Working from home (WFH) poses serious practical issues for those leading teams. In an office environment, leaders can see all of the facets of their team interplaying; moods, who gets on well with whom, if you are frustrated and which tasks are causing those frustrations etc. This makes it easier to mitigate problems before they arise. WFH removes this ability so without proper communication, they are often blindsided. Communicate with your manager and tell them if you feel like you are on target to achieve your goals. Ask for their time and tell them the areas that you are finding especially difficult. This helps them to help you and so, productivity should increase.
- Participate in activities where the team is coming together. As stated previously, the pandemic has had negative effects on everyone’s mental health. We need some semblance of normality which is what having the occasional out-of-work hours zoom meeting provides. You are more likely to be productive if you perceive your work as a place where you are in the presence of like-minded and interesting individuals.
- Offer yourself up to do more than what is in your job description. We are not suggesting you take on a whole different project but there may be times when others in the company will need your help. For example; currently, OCC is sponsoring Codebar – a charity that facilitates the growth of a diverse tech community. We needed volunteers to coach the students so 4 members of our Innovation Delivery team volunteered their time. This means that OCC now have a good relationship with Codebar and it aids the member’s productivity as it allows them to learn how to break complex matters down for non-tech personnel. This skill is very useful for stakeholder management which in turn, helps them to be more productive.
A theme alluded to above is that of good team collaboration. Tim Palmer, Head of Project Delivery, describes how we instil a sense of ownership to improve productivity in our Innovation Delivery teams.
“When delivering custom software projects in Innovation Delivery, we typically have teams of 2-3 developers. These teams are created at the start of the project using the developers best suited to the projects and disband at the end of the project to form new teams. Within each team, one developer is assigned the role of Technical Lead. This Technical Lead represents the team of developers and owns the project. A sense of ownership is key to productivity in our teams.
Our Project Managers will work with the Technical Lead to turn the project specification into a series of features on our DevOps task tracking. The Technical Lead and the developers will then split these features down into a series of tasks. From this point on the developers own the project task list.
We practice agile development and every sprint, flesh out the details of upcoming tasks. These discussions are done as a team so that everyone in the team knows what we’re building. Even though we might be working on different parts of the system, those parts need to fit together perfectly. This process allows all developers to take ownership of the design of the software.
As part of our teams’ planning meetings, we re-estimate our tasks. As you get closer to a task, your estimation of how long it will take gets more accurate. These estimates are key for Project Managers who need to set expectations with our clients and our project scheduling. By regularly re-estimating we provide the developers with ownership of the estimates and the timelines of the project.“
Top Tips For Technical Leads
- Tech Leads should code on the projects they are leading. This will help them to understand the issues being encountered by the team and thus will lead to higher productivity overall.
- Tech Leads should plan the project with the development team. The team should know the whole picture and not just what is happening next. This will help the team to know the steps that need to be taken and give them confidence in their ability to deliver high-quality projects. This confidence will aid their productivity.
- Tech Leads should work with the team to write the specifications of tasks. Each team member brings their own experience and knowledge to the table. Allowing them to write the specification for tasks collaboratively means that the most time effective, cost-effective and best resource pathways can be designed, as suggestions are discussed from various standpoints.
- Tech Leads should regularly update the project manager on the project estimates. Estimates change over time. They need to be constantly monitored and updated.
Tim goes on to describe how we foster teamwork and knowledge sharing within our teams.
“Planning meetings should not be the only time developers speak to each other. We’ve found that it is harder now we’re not sitting within 2 metres of each other, but we have standard processes which have proved invaluable here too.
Each project team has their own channel on our Slack. This channel allows developers to talk to each other about their tasks in a way that the conversation can be “overheard” by others on the team. Direct messaging between individuals is an anti-pattern because it means that others cannot join the conversation if they have relevant experience.
Code reviews are a team effort. Every task we develop is reviewed by another developer. This practice not only ensures that our code is the highest quality, but also that knowledge of how tasks were implemented is shared between developers. It is great when a code review allows someone to share a better way of implementing a section of code; it allows us to learn and grow as developers.
One other process that has become even more valuable during 2020 has been our morning meeting with all developers in Innovation Delivery. On this video call, we get to see that we’re not alone and describe what we’re currently working on. This is a key event that allows us to share knowledge on technologies and ask for assistance.“
Top Tips For Developers
- Have a chat channel for each project. Talking in private messages limits teamwork which in turn, limits productivity. In addition, having a chat channel for each project will help any new team members on the project get up to speed with project progress, issues etc.
- Have multiple developers review your code as you go along. Reviewing each other’s codes means you reduce errors the first time around, and it allows the whole team to share their knowledge. This, in turn, gives you better insight into each other’s strengths to increase productivity in the present and future projects.
- Hold daily stand-ups where you can see that you are not alone. WFH can be lonely, and it is easy to feel cut off from the rest of the team. A 15-minute call every morning can help with this and provides the additional social interaction that is important for our mental health.
Good team collaboration, mental state, emotional state and physical comfort all affect productivity levels. Whilst we wait for those in offices of power to make decisions as to whether we permanently keep the WFH arrangement or start reintroducing staff to the office in the next couple of months, we hope that the tips given above will provide some solace.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you have any comments or feedback, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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